“Not because I am indeed related, I so enjoyed the story line and the many, varied historical references to a special time and place that none of us will have the unique opportunity to see ever again …A salute to the humor in all of us, and kudos to the 6th Marx Brother, Gullo.” -- Bill Marx, son of Harpo Marx
“I had a blast reading this. The scenes with the young Marx Brothers really pop. Jim’s feeling for their voices and timing is spot-on, and he was able to capture their humor in scenes that also moved the narrative forward.” – Clete Barrett Smith, author of the Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast Series
“Great stuff! A great tale, and a perfect fit for the demographic.” – Christian Schoon, author of “Zenn Scarlett” and “Under Nameless Stars”
“Bravo! I truly enjoyed reading this. It’s funny and engaging, a brisk and entertaining read.” – Noah Diamond, Marx Brothers historian, Groucho impersonator and organizer of MarxFest 2014 and the “I’ll Say She Is” revival of 2016
It starts when Josh, the Class Clown of Patton Middle School in McMinnville, Oregon gets in trouble (again) for being a little bit too funny in school. The detention he receives threatens to ruin his baseball season. His friends Omar, Amy and the fabulous, fake English exchange student Elizabeth Walcot Woolcott all sympathize, but the evil Stevie San Pedro thinks Josh deserves his punishment.
Josh goes to the old magic shop on the wrong side of town where an ageless clown named Slivers makes Josh a deal: Convince some old friends of his to become comedians, and Slivers will get him out of detention. The friends are the famous Marx Brothers – Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Gummo and Zeppo -- long before they would begin their careers as comedians and movie stars, and they need a kick-start from history. As a Comedy Keeper, Josh must convince the funny brothers to take up comedy, or be forever lost to history. Without a boost from him, Slivers explains, there would never be Marx Brothers movies, and without that there would be no Saturday Night Live, Jerry Seinfeld or Simpsons. The future of comedy depends on Josh!
Josh activates The Great Wandini – a magical fortune-telling machine that can send people careening through time, and he is transported to the streets of New York City in 1908, where he is befriended by none other than Julius, Arthur and Leonard Marx.
The brothers Marx don’t even know they’re comedians yet; they have a singing act in vaudeville theaters with their mother, Minnie, and have no intention of changing it. But after witnessing much hilarity between the brothers at their cramped apartment, Josh convinces them that their future lies in comedy. To convince Minnie to change the act, Josh will have to go onstage and start the comedy ball rolling.
Meanwhile, in the present, Josh’s friends try to figure out how and why he disappeared and have some adventures of their own in Slivers’ Magic Shop and with the Great Wandini. Through a magical interface with the old New York Evening Standard newspaper, they can “text” Slivers to find and rescue Josh from the past.
Before that happens, though, and before he can return to his own time, Josh is nabbed by an evil “bull” –a corrupt policeman who conscripts children into slave labor in the textile mills of upstate New York. Josh is dragged away to the Oneida Textile Mills and what looks like a life of hard labor.
But the Marx Brothers intercede in a very funny way – by pretending that Julius is “the African Explorer,” Adolph and Leonard are natives, and they need a boy to take back to the dark continent. Josh is rescued, but the brothers still aren't sure about him until Josh reveals that he was sent by Frank "Slivers" Oakley, a real clown who was the toast of Broadway in the early years of the 20th century. The Marx Brothers finally believe his story and agree to fulfill their destinies as comics. With Josh in tow, they head to Coney Island in time to perform, bring the house down with jokes and antics, and set the brothers on the course of becoming famous.
“The Comedy Keeper” is many things: A rollicking, funny, fast tale, a tribute to classic comedy, a historical novel with period detail of 1908 New York City, and an introduction for young readers to the Marx Brothers, with authentic details of their lives and careers. Best read with a hard-boiled egg . . . or two.
“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s much too dark to read.” – Julius "Groucho" Marx